Published 9th November 2021

How to boost your energy naturally, according to science

What makes you feel low in energy? Many factors influence your energy levels, but some lifestyle factors have the greatest impact. The good news is that you can change your energy levels, and we have some great tips backed by science.

Many health experts say that energy levels are a combination of genetics, sleep, and exercise. 

Research shows that genetics only play a small role in affecting energy levels, and at ZOE, we found that one of the largest influences may be your diet.

Our scientists have found that low energy often occurs as a result of what you eat. Your unique responses to the food you eat — specifically your blood sugar — are linked with how energetic or tired you feel. 

In other words, who you are, what you eat, and how you move all impact your energy levels.

Fortunately, you have a significant amount of control over your diet and lifestyle factors that play a role in boosting energy levels. This is good news because you can boost your energy with personalized nutrition and lifestyle changes.

Although many supplements and nutrition products claim to help boost your energy levels, the vast majority of these products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and lack quality evidence proving that they work. 

When in doubt, be wary of products that make such claims.

In this article, you can find 12 science-backed lifestyle changes that you can try to give your energy a boost.

1. Find the best foods for you

It’s now possible to find out which foods are best for you through personalized nutrition advice. ZOE’s PREDICT program measured over 10,000 participants’ blood glucose and blood fat levels after eating.

This ground-breaking research showed that we each have unique responses to the food we eat. For example, identical twins can eat the same food but might have very different post-meal energy levels.

Using this type of data, ZOE can predict how a person responds to food and suggest the best food swaps for their body. 

Eating for your unique biology can boost your energy levels. Our unpublished data found that 82% of people who followed their personalized ZOE plan for 3 months said they had more energy.  

Take our free quiz to find out more about how ZOE can help you eat the foods that are best for your body. 

2. Feed your gut

The trillions of microbes that live in your gut and make up your gut microbiome are not just important for your digestion but also for your overall health. Each person’s microbiome is different and needs a wide range of different foods to thrive. 

Having a diverse microbiome — which means having lots of different microbes in your gut, particularly beneficial microbes — is good for your health. But having a lower diversity may increase your risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes.

Your gut health can also affect your energy levels.

Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, gastroenterologist and gut health expert recently explained that one of the most common clinical signs of an unhealthy gut that he observes in his practice is fatigue. 

Importantly, he said that one of the earliest signs of improvement in gut health is an increase in energy.

Our research has identified 15 specific microbes that are linked with good metabolic health and 15 microbes that are tied to poorer metabolic health.

Join our mailing list

Get occasional updates on our latest developments and scientific discoveries. No spam. We promise.

The “good” bugs are associated with a healthier heart and metabolic profile. The “bad” bugs, on the other hand, are linked with type 2 diabetes, heart disease, increased visceral or belly fat, and inflammation.

With the ZOE program, it’s possible for the first time to identify which bugs are in your gut and get personalized suggestions for gut microbe booster foods, which encourage growth of the 15 “good” bugs and can reduce your “bad” bugs.

We have put together this handy list of tips to improve your gut health. Prof. Tim Spector, ZOE’s scientific co-founder and microbiome expert, also shared his 5 tips for a healthier gut microbiome.

3. Avoid blood sugar spikes and eat complex carbs

When you eat carbohydrates, your blood sugar levels rise. This is a normal response, but it can be harmful long-term if blood sugar is rising too high or crashing too quickly after eating.

When your blood sugar dips too low or spikes too high, you will notice changes in energy levels, among other symptoms like hunger, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.

Unpublished research by ZOE scientists and their colleagues found that eating a lot of sugar at breakfast leads to lower energy levels later in the day. Sugary drinks and snacks may cause drastic swings in blood sugar and can lower energy levels as a result.

Eating more complex carbohydrates, particularly from plant sources, can help control blood sugar levels. This includes foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts, and legumes.

4. Reduce ultra-processed foods

Ultra-processed foods are high in added sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, and chemical additives.

Ultra-processing also affects the food matrix and makes foods very easy to digest. This can lead to big blood sugar peaks followed by dips.

People who eat a lot of highly processed food — and little unprocessed or minimally processed healthy plant foods — also have more “bad” gut bugs, according to our research.

Eat more whole foods to improve your energy levels and reserve those ultra-processed sugary foods for the occasional treat.

Try these food swaps:

●  baked potatoes with the skin on can replace potato chips

●  oatmeal instead of a sugar-sweetened cereal

●  dark chocolate can take the place of a candy bar

●  fruit instead of juice or soda

5. Drink water

Drink water to feel better. Dehydration can cause feelings of tiredness and changes in mood. Research has found that being as little as 2% dehydrated impacts attention and hand-eye coordination.

Whether you need brain power or energy to exercise, staying hydrated can help.

Try these tips to help you stay hydrated:

  • drinking a glass of water before each meal

  • keeping a refillable water bottle with you throughout the day

  • using a straw to make it easier to drink

  • starting your day with a big glass of water

  • adding lemon, herbs, or pieces of fruit to your water to make it flavorful

  • drinking tea or coffee as an alternative to water

6. Use caffeine wisely

Caffeine increases feelings of alertness. The benefits of coffee stretch beyond your energy levels. Your coffee consumption is also associated with greater microbiome diversity.

Be sure to cut your caffeine intake in the afternoon, as it can negatively affect sleep for many. 

Caffeine’s half-life is around 3 to 5 hours, which means that half of the caffeine in coffee will be gone from your body within a few hours after you drink it.

Coffee also comes with a host of other health benefits, which we have rounded up in this article

7. Prioritize your sleep

Both how much and how well you sleep are important for good energy levels. Poor sleep can affect energy levels due to changes in appetite and cravings the next day. 

When people don’t sleep well, they are more likely to eat more sugary food, which can lead to blood sugar spikes, followed by crashes and lower energy levels.

Unpublished research by ZOE scientists and their colleagues found that when people sleep longer and get better quality sleep, their energy levels are higher the next day.

8. Go to bed earlier

Even if you are struggling to get enough rest, there are ways to improve the quality of your sleep.

Unpublished research by ZOE scientists found that going to sleep earlier is better for your blood sugar control the next morning and helps avoid blood sugar spikes.

If you have a bad night’s sleep, don’t eat a high-sugar breakfast such as cereal or pastries, which can cause high blood sugar spikes in many people.

9. Address your stress

Removing stress completely from your daily life is certainly not realistic. However, addressing your stress levels with positive coping behaviors is paramount to long-term health.

Stress can negatively impact gut health. The vagus nerve runs from the brain to the gastrointestinal tract and may play a role in connecting the gut microbiome to your stress response.

Stress is part of everyday life and easier to address for some than others.

Consider these activities to manage stress:

●  getting outside every day

●  taking a walk

●  exercising

●  using breathing exercises to calm your nervous system

●  working with a counselor

●  calling a friend

●  getting enough sleep

10. Get moving

Exercise can boost energy and relieve fatigue.

Getting 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week is recommended for long-term health. These minutes of activity can be divided throughout the week to be more manageable.

ZOE's PREDICT research program also found that people who exercise regularly have fewer blood sugar spikes. From our other research, we know that blood sugar peaks and dips are related to how energetic you feel, so exercising may give you more energy by reducing blood sugar peaks.

Exercise also positively impacts sleep which, in turn, boosts energy levels.

To get moving, consider these tips:

●  standing or walking during work meetings

●  taking the stairs instead of the elevator

●  parking farther away and walking

●  scheduling your active time on your calendar

●  walking on your lunch break

11. Watch your alcohol intake

Researchers have linked drinking alcohol to poor energy levels, especially the day following consumption. 

Alcohol may also impair sleep quality, increase the stress hormone cortisol, and cause mood changes.

Enjoy alcohol in moderation to avoid low energy levels. Try switching to water, caffeine-free tea, or a “mocktail” some nights instead.

12. Don’t smoke

Smoking can make you feel low in energy and affect your motivation to change your habits.

In one study, smokers were less active and reported increased levels of fatigue compared with non-smokers. The smokers also said that they lacked motivation to be more active.

If you currently smoke, finding support to quit will improve your overall health and can boost your energy levels. 

Summary

How much energy you have is personal and likely down to a combination of your diet, how much you exercise, your sleep, and — to some extent — your genes. 

You can change your energy levels by changing your lifestyle. Limit ultra-processed foods, reduce alcohol, and quit smoking.

To boost your energy, prioritize your sleep, water intake, and physical activity, and identify the best methods for you to cope with stress.

Eating the right foods to feed your body and your “good” bugs can also positively impact how much energy you have.

The ZOE at-home test kit analyzes your blood sugar and blood fat responses, as well as your gut microbiome, to help you find the best foods for your body and your energy levels.

Take our free quiz to find out more.

Sources

Carbohydrates and blood sugar. (n.d.).

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/carbohydrates-and-blood-sugar/

Caffeine effects on systemic metabolism, oxidative-inflammatory pathways, and exercise performance. Nutrition Research. (2020). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0271531720304449?via%3Dihub

Cognitive performance and dehydration. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. (2012). 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22855911/

Combined and isolated effects of alcohol intake and one night of sleep deprivation on mood states, hormonal and inflammatory responses in healthy male adults: a crossover randomized controlled trial. The Chinese Journal of Physiology. (2017). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29241306/

Exercise and sleep: a systematic review of previous meta-analyses. Journal of evidence-based medicine. (2017). 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5527334/

Genetic contributions to self-reported tiredness. Molecular Psychiatry. (2018).

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5822465/

Mild dehydration impairs cognitive performance and mood of men. The British Journal of Nutrition. (2011). 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21736786/

Physical activity and feelings of energy and fatigue: epidemiological evidence. Sports Medicine. (2006). 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16937952/

Reduction of physical activity in daily life and its determinants in smokers without airflow obstruction. Respirology. (2014).

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24483840/

Sleep and Caffeine. (n.d.). 

https://sleepeducation.org/sleep-caffeine/

Sleep Restriction Enhances the Daily Rhythm of Circulating Levels of Endocannabinoid 2-Arachidonoylglycerol. Sleep. (2016). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26612385/

Stress, depression, diet, and the gut microbiota: human–bacteria interactions at the core of psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences. (2019). 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7213601/

The association between alcohol consumption and sleep disorders among older people in the general population. Scientific Reports. (2020). 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32210292/

The physical activity guidelines for americans. JAMA. (2018). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30418471/

Join our mailing list

Get occasional updates on our latest developments and scientific discoveries. No spam. We promise.

©2021 ZOE Limited